tv PBS News Hour PBS March 12, 2012 6:00pm-7:00pm PDT
captioning spopooror macneililehrer productions >> woodruff: a lone u.s. soldier is in custody after a killing rampage in afghanistan that left 16 civilians dead. good evening. i'm judy woodruff. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. on the newshour tonight, ray suarez has the latest on the attacks, and we assess the heightened strain on u.s. afghan relations. >> woodruff: then we preview the next two republican presidential primaries, and the southern strategies of the candidates. >> ifill: in his second report from fukushima, miles o'brien examines the efforts to clean up homes and land lost after the nuclear meltdown. >> 500 years. one family. one place. until now. and seeing it is understanding they will not be coming home.
>> woodruff: and we close with a rare look inside a unit of the free syrian army, opposition forces who defected from assad's military. that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> bnsf railway. >> the william and flora hewlett foundation, working to solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> woodruff: a massacre in the middle of the night, afghan civilians slaughtered as they slept, an american soldier the lone suspect.
u.s. officials struggled to make sense of those stark facts today, as afghans demanded justice. ray suarez begins our coverage. >> suarez: afghan soldiers were on alert in canned half today, stepping up security to prevent revenge attacks. anti-american rage was boiling after a u.s. soldier allegedly shot and killed 16 afghans in their homes, nine of them children. >> they killed a child. he was two years old. was this child the taliban? believe me i have not seen a two-year-old taliban yet. >> suarez: afghan officials said the soldier left a nato base in canned half late saturday and walked more than a mile to the village. they said he burst into three homes shooting as he went. according to villagers, the man then gathered up some of the bodies and set fire to them. then he walked another mile to another village, killing four
more afghans before returning to the base where he surrendered and remains in custody. he was identified as a 38-year-old staff sergeant from joint base lewis mccord in washington state who had served three tours in iraq. his name was withheld until charges are filed. meanwhile u.s. officials condemn the attack. at the u.n. today secretary of state hillary clinton called the shootings inexplicable. >> a full investigation is underway. a suspect is in custody, and we will hold anyone found responsible fully accountable. this terrible incident does not change our steadfast dedication to protecting the afghan people and to doing everything we can to help build a strong and stable afghanistan. >> suarez: president obama called the shootings heart breaking, but he said he's still proud generally of what u.s. forces have achieved in afghanistan. >> it does signal though the importance of us transitioning
in accordance with my plan so that afghans are taken taking over their security and we can start getting our troops home. >> suarez: he had telephoned afghan president on sunday offering condolences but karzai in turn called the shootings an assassination that cannot be forgiven. afghan anger was palpable on the streets of kandahar. >> we demand our government send the soldiers to the afghan court. we want to live in peace and freedom. we do not want the situation any more. we want to get free from the hand of the infed he wills. we cannot tolerate to be killed by these infidels. >> suarez: the taliban vowed revenge for what it called an inhumane crime. tensions were already high over the burning of korans by u.s. troops last month. that led to a week of deadly protests and the killing of half a dozen american troops by afghan soldiers. a month month earlier a video
emerged apparently showing four u.s. marines urinating on taliban corpses. even so white house officials insisted today these latest killings would not change the mission in afghanistan and would not force an early withdrawal. for welcome. how the arrest of the soldier, the regrets and concerns expressed by senior u.s. officials done anything to tamp down the reaction on the afghan side? >> well, we have seen a mixture of outrage and some understanding on the part of the afghan government. you know, hamid karzai had a very ex-clam er to statement at the beginning but at the same time we haven't seen any protests today in afghanistan which is what a locality of people were worried about. it's unclear if that is as a result of what the americans have done or if the news is
just taking a little while to get out to people. >> suarez: were there already tensions in afghanistan over how foreign troops accused of crimes in the country are treated? >> yeah, the tensions have really been high recently. it's been... this year we had in january a video emerge of u.s. marines urinating on what looked like taliban corpses and then of course the koran burnings just a couple weeks ago and the riots that then killed 30 people. so we already had a really high level of strife going on. we thought it was starting to subside recently this week but this is really ratcheted it up again. >> suarez: we know the accused or about to be accused is 38 years old, has been in service for 11 years. do we know much more about him? >> we do know that he did three tours in iraq. this was his first tour in afghanistan. just arrived in afghanistan in december. only moved out to this small
base in the district about six weeks ago. a pretty new arrival to the area where the attack happened. >> suarez: does this crime differ from the kinds of things that have killed afghan civilians in previous incidents? >> well, that's a good question because obviously it does, right? i mean this is an unprecedented event. a u.s. soldier just going out of his base, killing 16 people in the dead of the night. but to afghans, it's unclear if it feels so different. these are people who have been dealing with years of air strikes that have sometimes inadvertently killed civilians, with attacks that they feel are unjustified at times. and i mean there was an attack in 2008 that the officials said killed 90 people.
to many afghans, those feel just as criminal as this most recent attack. so, for them, it may not feel as different. >> suarez: apart from this most recent incident have casualties been down in general? because earlier it had been a major headache for nato commanders, hadn't it? >> well, it depends on how you measure it because afghan civilian casualties have been rising each year. in 2011, more afghan civilians died than in any previous year. but the majority of those casualties are from insurgent attacks. we're talking about the roadside bombs. we're talking about people who attack in markets and in government buildings. nato-related casualties have actually gone down in the same time. >> suarez: have there been any questions of how this all happened in the afghan public?
this is quite an unusual thing for one person working on their own to be able to accomplish. >> yeah. absolutely. i mean that's what we've been hearing from the villagers in recent days. people saying, you know, who is this guy? how did he get out? how is someone just wandering around? there have been people saying on both sides-- the american and the afghan side-- this must be a crazy man. this must be someone who was drunk or out of his witts somehow. but there's also conspiracy theories going. there are afghans who have said, "we think this guy must have been ordered to do this. otherwise how would he have gotten out of a base?" there's a lot of rumors. >> suarez: does this threaten the negotiations for some sort of approach, some sort of process with the taliban? >> well, that's a good question in terms of it's a very delicate sort of process we're going through right now that involves the afghan government and the american
government trusting each other a lot. this certainly risks undermining that trust. also there's the question of whether this growing anti-american sentiment makes things easier for the taliban, emboldens them even and makes them feel like they don't need to come to the negotiating table. if that's true, it will be much harder to have any sort of talks with them. >> suarez: heidi vode joining us from kabul. good to talk to you. >> of course. >> ifill: the commander of u.s. and nato troops in afghanistan cold cnn the shooting was a regrettable isolated incident that will not derail a resilient u.s.-afghan relationship. not everyone agrees. we turn now to seth jones, who worked for the commander of u.s. special forces in afghanistan from 2009 to 2011, and is now a senior political scientist at the rand corporation. and steve clemons, editor-at- large at the "atlantic" and director of the american strategy program at the new america foundation.
first, we have the desecration of the corpses. then we have the burning of the koran. is this strike three in. >> i think it's strike three. i know there's a difference of opinion out there. it's hard to imagine an incident that could become more viral and not only in when the tragedy of what just unfolded but of being something that the taliban can exploit over time because there's such an immediate call now for justice against or from the person who allegedly committed these crimes. and our u.s. military system of justice will run right against the afghan expectation of how their justice system should work. so this incident will remain ripe and alive for a long period of time. i think be very substantial in souring a relationship and changing the dynamics of how president karzai makes his choices in the future and how he positions himself vis-a-vis the united states. >> ifill: can this single incident or the acculumation of incidents sour that relationship? >> i think it will be unhelpful but i don't think it will ultimately be a third
strike. i think when you look at the situation in context, i would say a couple of things stand out. one is that the taliban still is killing as the previous interview indicated the vast majority of civilians. in afghanistan. so from an afghan population sense, again, i would say they have dealt with three decades now of civilian casualties. so this is not as out of the norm as it's appearing now in the american media. the second thing i would say that's important is there has to be an effort from the american commander to go on the ground and talk to the families and the local tribal elders and express its condolences. >> ifill: we saw the president. we saw the secretary of state. we saw the nato and u.s. forces commander. they all came out today and they bent over backwards to say they were sorry about this. doesn't that reflect that it's more than just the media reacting? >> well, i think in context of the recent koran burnings,
this is a strategic issue. but i still think in the broader context we've got a afghanistan has suffered three decades of war. it will probably continue to suffer several decades more of war. so i do think the issue the president is probably having to deal with more than anything else is a domestic one. he has his party which does not support the war in afghanistan and a growing number of republican candidates don't either. >> ifill: let's talk about domestic effect not only here but in afghanistan. we heard the talk about the effect on the negotiation s with the taliban. do you think there's a direct connection? >> i think this has given the taliban an edge and a piece of very valuable propaganda. i think whatever may be going on behind the scenes in trying to negotiate and deal with the taliban with the afghan governments inclusion and the pakistan government allowing it to happen, that the correlation of forces, if you will, just shifted a bit more towards the taliban, that whatever edge we thought we might have had gave way
somewhat with this incident. i think to a certain degree that this has been, you know, such a cauldron of horror for so long for so many people that part of the issue internally is the taliban have done awful things. but the united states was the trusted player. many afghans look at the fact that inside their country they see iran, china, india and other meddling inside their domestic operation. the u.s. was supposed to be the trusted ally. this makes it easier.... >> ifill: it didn't sound like that coming from karzai. >> no, and i don't think he can position himself to be that close to the united states while there is so much anger about this incident. i think that really does damage the ability to talk because what most afghans are beginning to realize and they've acquiesced to is the u.s. is on its way out. they see two or three more decades of turmoil and civil war as being the life they're likely to have. this makes the punctuation point of a departure point with the united states easier. that's really tragic. >> ifill: part of what was
supposed to make this go more smoothly was the creation of programs like this village stabilization program where u.s. forces were inserted into the countryside and helped to smooth things out and create stable. this is where this came from. this is where this fellow allegedly came from. does that end this program? >> actually, no. i think when you look at the stability operation and the afghan local police program across both the east and the south, that actually has contributed to a decline of taliban-controlled territory more than almost any other program. so in fact it's been quite successful. and the concerns that most people had is that this was building afghan militia and it was these militia forces that were going to turn predatory. actually ironically it was an american soldier operating out of rural areas that committed the most recent abuse rather than the afghans themselves. >> ifill: how about the timetable? there is a timetable for withdrawal of u.s. forces. does this sort of thing speed it up? does it slow it down? does it make people here or there more nervous about it? >> seth and i may disagree
about this. to some degree i'm speculating but we had a bit of tug of war between general john allen and the white house about what the time line would be. john allen wanted to keep those forces in place as long as he could, up until the departure date. the white house and particularly vice president biden made it very clear that there would be a paced drawdown meaning segment by segment that we would not draw down the full balance of forces. my sense is that with leon panetta's comments recently that combat operations would stop in 2013 you're beginning to see something of a combination of strategy and looking at an increasingly toxic environment that i think will make that draw down faster and more robust on the wrong end. i could be wrong. it's tied to what the taliban want and what these negotiations come out. there's a set of negotiations in which we don't see happening in which both sides are trying to position in how they deal with each other. to some degree i think panetta's comments were part
signaling to the taliban not a concession but what is possible. i suspect that the pressure to bring our troops home more quickly will increase. >> ifill: what do you think about that? >> i think what's unclear right now-- and the administration has been very careful on what it said-- it's unclear what happens in 2013, 2014 and beyond. will that mean zero u.s. forces? i've never heard anybody privately say that means zero. the talk now is 15 or 20 or 25, somewhere in that category. i think that the subject of discussion now is will this be mostly a move away from a conventional counterinsurgency model to more special operations and c.i.a. units, much like the u.s. was involved in the philippines or columbia or el salvador. that's a very different model than what the u.s. has been involved with over the last several years. >> ifill: something that steve clemons referred to. there might not be a lot of patience for the american version of justice in this
sort of thing. here we have an allege shooter whose name we still don't know. they want to charge him first. they want to take him through the u.s. justice system. there may not be any stomach for that. >> i think it's really one of the things that i worry about most. this is not a drone attack. this is not some accident or something where you've got a machine, a mechanism or something that is nameless behind it. there will be a person's name attached to this crime. there's going to be an appetite in afghanistan for immediate and severe and quick and they would say appropriate justice. i don't think our system can generate that. every day that this person remains outside of what the afghans would consider to be appropriate justice, the taliban have something to wave a flag around and to continue to rile emotions and to destabilize what was already a very, very bad situation inside afghanistan. >> ifill: yet no protests today yet. >> no protests. i would say afghans for better or worse, definitely for worse,
are used to being killed. the issue here of koran burnings and an insult to islam is what led to the broader.... >> ifill: killed on purpose in a targeted way with children and women involved? >> when you sit down with many local afghan villagers they will count over the last three decades multiple instances of their children, their fathers, their uncles who have been killed in a range of horrific ways. >> ifill: seth jones, steve clemons, thank you both very much. >> thank you, gwen. >> thank you, gwen. >> woodruff: still to come on the newshour, >> woodruff: still to come on the newshour, the next two primaries; contaminated ground in japan; and inside the free syrian army. but first, the other news of the day. here's hari sreenivasan. >> sreenivasan: the carnage in syria grew ever more brutal today, with reports that government troops carried out a massacre after recapturing parts of the city of homs. we have a report narrated by jonathan miller of independent television news. >> reporter: in the northern city, they run.
but they can't hide from assad's iron fist. at the other end of the country, they're running too. this time from snipers' bullets. the bodies are piling up. it's hard to see what kofi annan, the u.n. and arab league envoy, felt he could be optimistic about after meeting assad. the events of today's security council meeting in new york, each side accusing the other of massacring civilians. state tv accused what they called armed terrorist gangs of seeking to grab the spotlight and put the blame on the government. we've had to blur the pictures. >> the footage showed the crimes of terrorist gangs that kidnapped and killed some people. a source added that those gangs killed their victims, mutilated their bodies and instigated international attitudes against syria. >> reporter: many of the dead
were women and children. both sides agreed on that. opposition activists describe this as slaughter and begged again for international intervention. whole districts of homs are now rubble-strewn post apocalyptic ruins. survivors are leaving. god curse him, this tearful old man says. he's a terrorist. bashar is the terrorist. >> sreenivasan: at the u.n., there was no sign of a break in the security council stalemate over what to do about syria. israeli air strikes on gaza killed five palestinians today, and islamic jihad militants kept rockets flying into southern israel. the fighting happened over the weekend, after israel's killing of a top militant leader on friday. in all, 23 gazans have been killed so far, and two israelis have been seriously wounded. it is the worst cross-border violence in more a year.
supporters of requiring photo identification for voters suffered setbacks in two more states today. the u.s. justice department rejected a new texas law. the department cited data showing that hispanic voters in texas are twice as likely as others to lack a driver's license or state-issued i.d. and a county judge in wisconsin permanently blocked a similar law there. the justice department had earlier rejected a photo i.d. law in south carolina. wall street searched for a way forward today, but major indexes ended up going in opposite directions. the dow jones industrial average gained more than 37 points to close at 12,959. the nasdaq fell 4 points to close at 2983. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to judy. the enormous challenges of trying to clean up radiation from the nuclear accident in fukushima japan. sunday marked the first anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami and subsequent meltdowns at the nuclear plants there.
newshour science correspondent miles o'brien has returned to the region for a series of stories. here's his second report. >> reporter: it was a lonely, sad ride home for timeo and yoko. i joined them as they returned for a quick visit to gather some belongings and checkup on the place. we are in the town of namia, japan, five miles from the fukushima dai-ichi nuclear power plant. radiation contamination here was 35 a year. to is allowable limit. only one a year is considered acceptable for average citizens. nearly a year after they had to hastily abandon it, their home is showing the signs of damage if the earthquake and neglect. timeo is the 30th generation
to grow rice on this land. a buddhist statue in his shrine room dates back to the 15th century. 500 years, one family, one place, until now. and seeing it is understanding they will not be coming home. >> i expected a better situation,. i expected if we fixed it, we could return and live in it. i thought so when we left but looking at this, no way. we were living a happy life. that memory came back to me. sorry. thinking that we'll never return to the happy days, i'm so sad. sorry. >> reporter: this family's home is too close to the plant and too contaminated to consider a clean-up. but farther away where the
radiation readings are a little lower, there is a lot of work underway to fight the fallout. this person is doing his part to try to make things right. volunteering his time to clean up yards and school playgrounds in the city 12 miles north of the fukushima dai-ichi plant. but as i watched him work, i quickly realized the dimensions of the dilemma. at this home outside the mandatory evacuation zone he has scraped off the top layer of soil and bagged it all up but since there is no government designated dumping ground, he trucked the hot soil bags a few miles away to an apartment building owned by a friend and left them there. it's illegal, but i keep them in an empty space, he told me. when the government sets up interim dumping sites, i will move them there right away. back at the home while the
soil may now be safe for kids to play, the driveway is still dangously contaminated with ssezium. the only solution is to grind off the top layer of concrete. he believes this neighborhood should be officially evacuated so that residents can be compensated. the government is just delaying the inevitable in my eyes, he said. instead the government should honestly acknowledge that decontamination is unrealistic, apologize and evacuate citizens as soon as possible. the mayor is conflicted on this issue. is it possible that this clean- up can't be done? "it's impossible," he said. "only a few parts of the area may be decontaminated. it is better than doing nothing so it should be done anyway." in the city of onami about 40
miles from the fukushima dai-ichi nuclear plant, they are embracing that philosophy, putting a lot of time, effort and money to clean up some once fertile rice farms now heavily contaminated with fallout. rice grown here as happy banned from if market. this person also the 30th generation rice farmer believes he will be the last. "i have to choice but to give up farming given the current situation," he said. an army of workers is here trying to put the rice growers back in business. they have scraped off the top layer of soil, bagged it and removed it, carefully leveled the fields and then checked and recorded the radiation readings. but this model project may be fundamentally flawed. the mountains that rim this valley are covered with a contaminated cedar forest.
this worker told me what happens after the clean-up. >> few days later, the radiation, the sezium is very familiar to the soil so the dust in the soil will fly from the mountain. >> reporter: comes right back down. the cedar forest will remain a persistent source of contamination spread by the pine needles and cones and pollen. consider the so-called red forest near chernobyl so named because the radiation from the meltdown in 1986 killed large swath of trees. i walked through it with a physicist of the university of kiev a year ago, and it remains highly contaminated to this day. >> the ground is just hot. >> reporter: so this used to be pine trees as far as you can see. >> yes. >> reporter: and the contamination came through after the explosion. to this day,....
>> it is still there. >> reporter: are there animals that can live here or not? >> no, no. >> reporter: no animals here. >> shall we get some pine needles? >> reporter: his colleague,, two scientists, have studied the impact on flora and fawn a for more than a decade in chernobyl. they're here in fukushima gathering. >> the greenness of the vegetation tells something about the stages of the plants and the plant community. the more green it is, the more healthy the vegetation is. >> of course, you know, the plant community is the foundation, the basis of the... everything else that goes on in the community. it's what the insects feed on. it's what some of the birds feed on, where they live. so what happens to the plant community can have a dramatic impact on the rest of the eco system. >> reporter: scientists
suggest the japanese engage in a form of fallout triage. john boies is a professor of medicine at vanderbilt university. >> they've developed three zones for the japanese authorities. jones less than millysieberts. the area that are 50 and above there will be no repopulation. in the other areas below 20, you'll be allowed to return. the 20 to the 50 is where they'll be working on to see how low they can get the levels. if they can get below 20. >> reporter: for now, the tidy, tiny, temporary housing for evacuees is looking more and more like a perm net fixture. people like this man who lost his wife, son and mother in the tsunami, told me.... >> my village fell apart. we hoped we could do collective relocation.
but it's not realistic. >> reporter: there is no way to sweep away the mess or bury the sense of loss here one year after everything seemed to change. it is a long road home to be sure. >> ifill: in his next story, miles examines food safety in japan after the disaster. on our web site, you can watch his first report about the long- term risks of radiation exposure. >> woodruff: once again to the republican presidential race, as the candidates sprinted toward a pair of key nominating contests in the south tomorrow. the republican race had a decidedly southern flavor today with mitt romney, rick santorum annuity gingrich all campaigning in alabama or mississippi. on fox and friends this
morning, romney said regardless of what happens there tuesday, he is ultimately going to beat santorum, his nearest rival. >> we're closing the deal state by state delegate by delegate. i guess two, two-and-a-half times as many delegates as he is, about the same number of state advantages that he has, many more republican voters than he has. we're pretty pleased with the progress we're making. >> woodruff: late polling suggested santorum and gingrich might split the more conservative vote tomorrow and create an opening for romney. with that in mind, the former massachusetts governor campaigned in rainy mobile, alabama, today winning the endorsement of comedian jeff foxworthy. meanwhile on nbc's today show, rick santorum was doing his own calculation. and insisting that romney won't win if the contest goes to the republican convention. >> they are not going to nominate a moderate massachusetts governor who has been outspending his opponent 10 to 1 and can't win the election outright.
what chance do we have in a general election if he can't... with the overwhelming money advantage be able to deliver in any kind of knockout blow to other candidates? >> woodruff: santorum did beat romney on saturday for a win in the kansas caucuses. but romney won in wyoming and did well enough in guam, the virgin islands and the mariannas to win the most delegates of the day. back in the south, newt gingrich focused on president obama and gas prices. today at a gulf coast energy summit in biloxi mississippi. >> the president is trapped. on the one hand he does believe in a green energy high technology very expensive energy get away from all fossil fuel theory of life. on the other hand he is faced with americans who drive trucks and cars which rely on fossil fuels. >> woodruff: as gas prices keep rising, a new abc "washington post" poll showed the president's approval dipping below 50% again.
at the white house spokesman jay carney played down the finding. >> the president and the administration is not focused on polling data. we are obviously aware that americans are paying a very high price when they fill up their gas tanks. and the president is focused on that and concerned about it. and understands the kind of impact that has on hard working american families who are trying to make ends meet. >> woodruff: the rising price of gas increasingly shapes up as an issue this fall but for now the republican hopefuls were mainly focused on the voting tomorrow in alabama and mississippi with 90 delegates at stake. for for more on tomorrow's primaries in alabama and mississippi, we are joined by steve flowers, a syndicated political columnist and host of "alabama politics." he also served 16 years in the alabama house of representatives. and sid salter, journalist in residence at mississippi state university. thanks to you both.
steve flowers, i'm going to start with you because alabama with 50 delegates has ten more than mississippi. tell us what the contest looks like in alabama right now. >> well, we're in a dead heat. all candidates coming out on the weekend in tracking polls had them about 30% each. we may be one of the tightest races in the country. >> woodruff: and what are the canned dalts, steve flowers, what is their main message to the voters in your state. >> the evangelical fundamentals have gravitated to santorum because he's the most on conservative issues. gingrich is benefiting from the fact that he is a good candidate. the south has a more pronounced friends and neighbors politics, if you will, than the rest of the country. the fact that gingrich is from georgia is benefiting him and putting him in the race where he probably would not be otherwise. as a matter of fact, the last person to carry alabama as a democrat was jimmy carter in
1976. he was a devout southern baptist peanut farmer from south georgia. and then romney is probably getting the mainstream voter, probably the person who thinks that romney is the better candidate to beat obama. >> woodruff: sid salter, what about in mississippi? is gingrich advantaged because of the time he spent in the south? >> i think the biggest advantage that gingrich has right now he's hit on a very populist issue in the $2.50 gas. that said, it appears to much, much as is in alabama that the take-away is shaping up for the mississippi primary that mitt romney is doing and will do much better here on tuesday than forecast by virtually anyone. >> woodruff: why do you think that is? >> well, number one there's been sort of a carpet bombing of robo-calls, of paid media.
i mean they have spent a lot of money. they've also had organizational skills brought to them by austin barber, the nephew of haley barbour. that name still political gold in a lot of areas of mississippi. the other thing that i think is that people in iowa and new hampshire are used to this kind of attention. mississippi has been traditionally a tarmac state where candidates hold a press conference on the airport tarmac and then get back on the plane and leave. this time they're getting a lot of attention. it's generating a significant amount of interest. >> woodruff: steve flowers, if it's the same way in alabama, does that mean people are more interested and more of them are likely to turn out and vote tomorrow? >> yes, i think so. i think the presidential race is the first time we've had any relevance in the presidential race. as the gentleman from mississippi mentioned, we are forgotten in the general election because it's a foregone conclusion who the
republican nom res are that will carry our state. this is the first time in the republican race that we've had any candidates come to our state. there are signs and billboards and television ads. most of the ads are negative. but they seem to be trending-- i agree with the guy from mississippi. romney may surprise folks tomorrow because the momentum may be with him. >> woodruff: and you're talking about alabama? >> yes. >> woodruff: sid salter, back to you. tell us who the republican voters are in the state of mississippi. tell us a little bit about them. >> well, primarily you're looking at voters who define themselves as anti-abortion, pro gun, primarily pro business evangelical, all of the hot buttons that one would traditionally associate with conservative and primarily republican voters in the south.
but you're seeing this time romney's sheen of growing inevitability begin to shine through some of those evangelical concerns. i think that's the reason that much is happening in alabama. we've almost got an even split now with ron paul picking up a negligible amount of the vote and romney, santorum and gingrich getting a point... and if anybody six months ago said mitt romney would get a strong second in mississippi, they would have had their head examined. that's very much what is trending right now. >> woodruff: steve flowers, back to you in alabama. is that a factor in your state as well that republicans are looking at mitt romney and saying maybe he's going to be the one and that's who i want to be with regardless of whether i may share more values with the other two? >> i think definitely so. alabama it's assumed we in the
south are different. we are because we're more conservative. however, throughout the course of the entire campaign, whoever was hot, the flavor of the month, was hot in alabama. michelle backman was hot. then rick perry. herman cain and then santorum. it seems we are trending like the national trend although we have more evangelical voters than the rest of the country. i think what you're seeing is that a lot of republican voters not only in alabama and mississippi but also nationwide are trying to ascertain who is the best candidate to beat obama. there's a fervor among conservatives in alabama and throughout the country i feel to defeat president obama. they're voting for romney in deference to whatever whether they like him or not they feel like he is the best candidate against obama. as a matter of fact, some of the negative ads that i saw over the weekend indicated that gingrich may be drawing
from the same well. gingrich did very well in the debates. for a lot of people watching those debates and gravitated to gingrich in that regard. i saw a lot of negative ads that romney was running against gingrich. he may perceive that gingrich is getting that same voter who is saying we want to beat obama at all costs. >> woodruff: finally back to you, sid salter. where does that leave santorum and his appeal? >> santorum really needs the win, in my opinion, in mississippi and alabama far more than gingrich. gingrich has said he's in regardless. santorum hasn't yet made that claim. he needs the win, and i think his performance against romney particularly is disappointing to him and to his supporters. >> woodruff: we are going to leave it there, gentlemen. we thank you both. sid salter in mississippi and steve flowers in alabama, we
>> ifill: finally tonight, a look at one element of syria's opposition, the free syrian army. many are defectors from syria's regular army that is putting down the anti-assad rebellion with brutal efficiency. hugh macleod and annasofie flamand, a reporting team from our international news web site partners, global post, spent time with the fighters in northern lebanon. an unnamed photographer accompanied them into syria. macleod voiced this report. >> reporter: these guys with me are from the free syrian army. they are defected soldiers from the army of the syrian regime.
i feel proud that we the free syrian army can say that we are here, we are here on the ground. and hopefully soon we will conduct large operations, operations to topple the regime. >> one year into his brutal crackdown on peaceful protests syrian president bashar al assad is facing an armed insurgency by the rebel fighters of the free syrian army. the group is led by officers and soldiers who defected from assad's security forces after witnessing atrocities against their own people. >> reporter: it was like a genocide against the people, and i was part of it. the army went to the streets and shelled houses with tanks. and the demonstrations. this person is a field commander for one of hundreds of units fighting government forces across southern and central syria. we've agreed not to reveal his
full name. >> we will enter from this position. we can cross from here. >> reporter: an estimated 7,000-10,000 men are currently fighting with the f.s.a. though assad's forces outnumber and outgun the poorly armed rebels, scores of soldiers are still defecting every month to join the fight. >> for me my conscience didn't allow me to watch as the regular army but rather there's nothing we call a national army. there's assad's brigades and assad's gains. beat the people and commit crimes against humanity. there was a tank and around it there were soldiers. i stood here away from it. >> 21-year-old mohammed defected late last year and joined the unit. he tells his officer about firing a rocket-propelled grenade at one of the regime's tanks.
>> reporter:. >> i stood here. of course the first rocket didn't work. i took it out and changed it. then launched the second one. that's when they were firing at me. >> that's you? >> that's me. i was holding the rocket- propelled grenade launcher. i fired it here. >> did you hit your target? >> of course. >> in the long hours between missions the young fighters tried to keep up morale by remembering the friends and family they're fighting for. >> i miss you, it says. i miss my mother a lot. if i don't go back, i cannot see her or my family or anybody else. of course, the injustice will not stop unless me and my brother here fight for it. i am supposed to call him sir but now i call him brother because we fight for the same cause.
>> in the last few weeks f.s.a.units have achieved their greatest successes but also suffered their biggest defeats. units in homs were forced to retreat after battling a month long government assault that killed at least 700 and wounded 2,000. mostly civilians. but this man says his unit successfully captured two of the regimes key bases in a town 20 miles southwest of homs. >> are you ready to fight with assad's troops? >> yes. for sure. we can easily clash with them despite our lack of ammunition. >> we asked the international community to arm the free syrian army because we have only a few arms and even less ammunition.
>> their victory at come at a great cost. ali was wounded and of the dozen fighters in his unit three, including mohammed, have been killed. >> they are stronger with their deception, with their weapons, their tanks and their air force. but we have a stronger will, a stronger doctrine and a stronger people. we fight for god. they fight for bashar. we will see who will win in the end. >> woodruff: again, the major developments of the day, a u.s. military investigation was under way after a lone american soldier allegedly killed 16 afghan civilians on sunday. and israel and islamic jihad militants traded air strikes and rocket fire across the gaza border, for a fourth day. at least five palestinians were killed. and do you want to know where the republican candidates are campaigning? find out online. hari sreenivasan explains.
>> sreenivasan: track their travel plans on our political calendar. also on our politics page, you can also sign up for the morning line email from our politics team. on our world page, we've rounded up reactions and more coverage of the civilian killings in afghanistan. and on his making sense page, paul solman examines what's behind skyrocketing gas prices. all that and more is on our web site, newshour.pbs.org. judy? >> woodruff: and that's the newshour for tonight. on tuesday, we'll have the latest on the primaries in mississippi and alabama. i'm judy woodruff. >> ifill: and i'm gwen ifill. we'll see you online, and again here tomorrow evening. thank you, and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> bnsf railway. >> and by the bill and melinda gates foundation. dedicated to the idea that all people deserve the chance to live a healthy, productive life.
and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org